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      Hundreds attend Ameren rate hearing

      Hundreds of mid-Missourians attended Tuesday's public hearing in Jefferson City to discuss the latest Ameren UE electric rate case.

      The hearing was moved to a larger ballroom to house the many mid-Missourians who wanted their voice heard. This hearing was the 4th hearing of 14.

      In July, Ameren UE, which provides electric service to about 1.2 million Missouri customers, filed their latest electric rate case with the Missouri Public Service Commission. Ameren wants to increase their revenue by about $402 million.

      For the average residential customer that would mean about an 18 percent increase on their bill, or $14 a month increase. But, in the midst of the current recession, many Missourians told Public Service Commissioners they simply cannot afford a higher electric bill.

      "I would say the common theme that you hear is that people are struggling right now," PSC Chairman Robert Clayton said. "People are losing jobs. They are not working as much as they thought they would be. The term that we've heard this year more than any other is that people are unemployed and under-employed."

      "I think its important for customers to understand that the money we're asking for here has already been spent," Ameren UE executive Steve Kidwell said. "The way rate cases work in Missouri, we have to spend the money and then we have to prove those expenditures to the Public Service Commission in these rate cases. So, while I know that the timing is difficult, we heard from people over the last two or three years that reliability is very important to them."

      Ameren officials said thismoney was spent on efforts to improve reliability, like tree-trimming and undergrounding power lines.

      Just over half of the money generated by this rate increase would cover higher fuel costs and lower revenues from power sales outside Ameren's system.

      Ameren officials said the company is tightening its belt right along with their average customer.

      Ameren froze employees' salaries and cut $150 million from last year's budget.

      The PSC is required to make a decision on the rate case by June.

      There will be PSC hearings held in St. Louis next week.